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In 1943, the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army (Rabóče-krestʹjánskaja Krásnaja ármija, RKKA) of the Soviet Union decided to adopt shoulder boards instead of collar tabs for rank identification. This is an amusing change. Since the Russian Revolution, shoulder boards were frowned upon by the Bolsheviks as Tsarist and Imperialist relics, and hence they were discarded in the early Soviet uniforms.

As shown below, with the 1943 adaptation, an average Soviet soldier (left) resembles an Imperial Russian soldier (right).

Post-1943 Red Army uniform Imperial Russian uniform

I'm wondering, What are the reasons and motivations in the Soviet leadership behind this change?

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  • Might it be as simple as being easier to read their rank from the larger shoulder epaulettes than from the collar?
    – Steve Bird
    Feb 8, 2023 at 18:51
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    It was only a part of the general polity of breaking with the intrrnationalist past and emphasizing nationalism (including Russian imperial traditions). Feb 8, 2023 at 19:40
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    Reinforcing the "old nacionalism revival" idea, note that the shoulder boards and insignias followed closely that of former Imperial Russia. Make grandpa proud of young Captain Ivan again! uniforminsignia.net/imperial-russian-army-(1854).html
    – Luiz
    Feb 9, 2023 at 22:04
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    I suggest to add the word "soviet" in front of red army, as the modern People's Liberation Army (est. 1927) had a breakaway "Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army" or short "Chinese Red Army" from 1928–1937, which then was folded back into the National Revolutionary Army which then was renamed PLA in 1947...
    – Trish
    Feb 10, 2023 at 13:41
  • One could argue that this is the trend of the revolution - the gradual reversion from radical ideology to comfortable imperial nationalism.
    – MCW
    Feb 13, 2023 at 13:55

1 Answer 1

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TL;DR

The failure of the communist ideology to mobilize the nation to fight the German invaders lead to a gradual roll back of the several changes instituted by Bolsheviks when they took power:

  • The Church was allowed to elect a Patriarch
  • Shoulder boards were restored
  • The ranks of "officer" and "general" were re-introduced

This was a part of the turn of the ideology from "communist internationalism" to "Russian patriotism" that started with the "brothers and sisters" speech. Of course, "communist internationalism" was not abandoned wholesale, but made to co-exist with patriotism.

Context

"The War" in Russian always means the "Great Patriotic War" (Russian does not have articles though, so it's even more striking). This was a major event in the nation's history (the previous "Patriotic War" was in 1812, against Napoleon). Both wars required massive public participation (i.e., the "regular army" was not the only fighting force).

The war for Russia started with a German invasion that was a complete surprise for the nation.

The disastrous defeats of 1941 showed that Russians were not eager to die for communism (especially since many soldiers were peasants who remembered collectivization and Holodomor well), so a shift in ideology was necessary.

Changes

"Russian patriotism" was gradually made an integral part of the official ideology. This was not just in the name of the war - "The Great Patriotic War" - but also in many references to Russian history.

Not only the "commanders" were renamed to "officers" and "generals" (the latter words were actually invectives until then!) but old Russian historical figures were lionized and new decorations named after them introduced, starting in 1942 (Alexander Nevsky, Suvorov, Ushakov, Kutuzov, Nakhimov &c) .

Moreover, the Russian Orthodox Church was "rehabilitated" - it was permitted to elect a Patriarch and became, yet again, a faithful servant of the state in exchange for an ease of relentless persecution (other religions were less fortunate - protestants and Jews were as persecuted as before, if not more). See also Were there in the USSR monasteries decorated with Soviet orders?

An unrelated "friendly gesture to the Western allies" was the formal dissolution of Comintern in 1943 (nothing changed in the actual management of subservient communist parties from Moscow).

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  • The defeats of 1941 don't explain a uniform change made in 1943, at which point the Germans had long since lost at Moscow (Jan 1942) and exhausted themselves with the offensive towards Stalingrad. By the time the uniform change was made, the USSR could no longer be said to be losing.
    – SPavel
    Feb 9, 2023 at 18:11
  • @SPavel: I suggest that you read the answer again. Moreover, the summer campaign of 1943 started with a GERMAN offensive, so the Wehrmacht was far from "exhausted".
    – sds
    Feb 9, 2023 at 18:14
  • I think the updates clear it up. Thanks.
    – SPavel
    Feb 9, 2023 at 18:35
  • Internationalism was also very much put on the back-burner to please the Americans, whose help was sought. Although formally the Comintern was disbanded only in 1943. Feb 9, 2023 at 20:03
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    @seven-phases-max: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_(grammar)
    – sds
    Feb 13, 2023 at 1:40

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